WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Joe Biden laid out what his administration is doing to combat the emergence of the omicron variant and he encouraged the American people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. We’ll have to face this new threat, just as we faced those that’ve come before it,” said Biden.
Biden spoke about the variant Monday morning after he and Vice President Kamala Harris received a briefing from members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the new strain.
Watch Biden's remarks below:
During his remarks, Biden said he has three messages about the variant that he wants the American people to hear.
“First, this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” said Biden.
Biden said the U.S. has the best vaccines in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more about how to combat COVID-19 every day.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told Biden that it will take about two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the omicron variant, but the expert continues to believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID-19, according to the White House.
“Second, the best protection – I know you’re tired of hearing me say this – the best protection against this new variant or any of the variants out there, the ones we’ve been dealing with already, is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot,” said Biden.
The Biden administration says Fauci also reiterated that boosters for fully vaccinated individuals provide the strongest available protection from COVID-19.
All adults are now eligible for a booster if they were vaccinated six months ago or more with Pfizer or Moderna, or two months ago or more with Johnson & Johnson. The COVID Response Team’s recommendation to all vaccinated adults is to get a booster shot as soon as possible
“Third, in the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool.”
Biden said his team is already working with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed. He will also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process possible without cutting any corners for safety to get such vaccines approved and, on the market, if needed.
Much of the world is anxiously waiting to learn more about the omicron variant, which was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa. Since then, it has appeared as far apart as Hong Kong, Australia, and Portugal. Canada, our neighbors to the north, have also identified cases of the variant.
The World Health Organization has classified the omicron variant, otherwise known as B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern.” No cases of the variant have been identified in the U.S. as of Monday morning, but experts say it’s only a matter of time.
“We expect omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.,” wrote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a statement on the variant.
As a result of the emerging variant, Biden has ordered additional air travel restrictions from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Those will take effect Monday.
“The very day that the WHO identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in southern Africa,” said Biden. “But while travel restrictions can slow the speed of omicron, it cannot prevent it. But here’s what it does: it gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine, you have to get your shot, you have to get your booster if you’re eligible.”
Biden added that he’ll release a detailed plan on Thursday about how the U.S. will combat COVID-19 this winter, “Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more.”
Biden closed his remarks with this message: “If you are vaccinated but still worried about the new variant, get your booster. If you aren’t vaccinated, get that shot, go get that first shot.”